“Any time you lose positions it is very difficult to come back and get those positions back.” POLIce chief Jim Craft
LAFAYETTE — The proposed Lafayette city-parish government budget for next year strips funding for 84 vacant positions in an effort to bring expenses in line with revenue.
The City-Parish Council on Tuesday began a series of hearings on the proposed budget, which has been trimmed to reduce the dependence on a savings account that has dwindled in recent years as costs have grown faster than tax proceeds.
Among the most notable changes is the reduction of the number of authorized city-parish jobs from 2,316 to 2,232 — formally doing away with many positions that have been left vacant under a hiring freeze this year.
Some of the biggest reductions were in the budgets that the council reviewed on Tuesday for the Public Works Department, the Police Department and the Fire Department.
The strategy of cutting expenses by eliminating scores of unfilled positions prompted concerns from department heads about the ability to maintain adequate staff in the long run, although most said they could make do next year.
“Any time you lose positions it is very difficult to come back and get those positions back,” Police Chief Jim Craft said, responding to council questions about the 16 currently funded positions that he carved from his proposed budget for next year — 12 police officers, 3 records clerks and one communications supervisor.
“As soon as we can get them back, we need to get them back” Craft said.
The proposed budget nixes funding for nine unfilled firefighter positions, a cut that Fire Chief Robert Benoit said is manageable in the short term but could cause problems in the future.
The proposed reduction in funded firefighter positions comes as Benoit has urged the council to consider additional fire stations to serve Lafayette’s growing population, but the chief said staffing those stations would require hiring more firefighters.
Funding for fire and police operations has been an ongoing issue for city-parish government, and there have been discussions by the council about the possibility of a new sales tax dedicated to public safety.
“You are not going to cut yourself to prosperity,” City-Parish Chief Administrative Office Dee Stanley said. “You cannot cut yourself there; it is going to take an additional revenue source.”
The biggest single proposed cut in funded positions is in the Department of Public Works.
Next year’s proposed budget would eliminate 30 funded positions that are now vacant, but the council proposed an amendment on Tuesday to restore one of those positions.
Public Works Director Tom Carroll told council members that the “sky is not falling” and that public works has already been operating with the vacancies for several months.
But Carroll cautioned that drainage improvements, erosion control and other public works projects depend heavily on having workers in the field.
“When you eliminate those positions, you can’t do more with less; you do less with less,” Carroll said. “… We have greatly expanded our infrastructure, yet our staffing to maintain that infrastructure is going down.”
Along with the proposed reduction in funded positions, City-Parish President Joey Durel’s administration is also extending the hiring freeze that is already in place, filling only positions that the administration deems necessary.
And for the second year in a row, raises for city-parish employees are off the table, except for a state-mandated 2 percent annual raise for firefighters.
The proposed city-parish budget is about $581 million, which includes operating expenses, capital improvements and the budget for the city-owned utility system.
The city-parish budget hearings are scheduled to continue on Aug. 9.
The council is tentatively scheduled to approve the budget on Sept. 13.